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I Own a SodaStream

For years (really, years and years), I was and still am a loyal Coca-Cola drinker. At every job, it would take about a week for colleagues to realize just how often I drank it. There haven't been many days that have gone by where I haven't had a Coke, which I alternate between thinking of as a mark of shame and shrugging off as an aspect of my personality. I'm not saying I can tell the difference in a blind taste test, but Pepsi cola lacks the zing that Coca-Cola has. I've come to believe that it depends on the location of the bottling plant, and for some reason, Vancouver has the best Coke I've tried.

As a Coke drinker, I always order that at restaurants, and more than half the time, the server says they don't serve Coke, and they inevitably follow that up with "Is Pepsi OK?" One day, someone will say "No, it's not OK" and make a big stink about it. I never will. It's why this reaction to the sale of SodaStream to Pepsi is so funny:

I do not have an obvious place in my apartment to put it, so it sometimes sits on the coffee table or dinner table. One day my little flat in downtown Toronto is going to burst with the amount of stuff that's crammed into it.

After deciding not to buy the syrups, mainly because I care more about the fizz than the taste of soda, buying a SodaStream should dramatically cut down on the amount of my sugar intake. Other SodaStream owners I've talked to play up how much money they're saving, though it's rare to hear them say they've bought the syrup. I'm under no illusions that it will save me much money, or, more importantly, that I'll notice either way.

I can tell you what day it was that I finally surrendered and bought one: It was the day Pepsi bought the company, August 20th, 2018. I considered buying it online, though for a reason I can't remember, I wanted to buy it from a store. The website I could find it at The Bay. North America's oldest company, it's a department store with a location near my office. I would find SodaStream units in the lower level of the Eaton Centre location, and while I hummed and hawed about the price (it was $10 more than an online price), the salesman said he could honour the "special" they had recently. I bought it that day mostly to be able to say I bought it the day Pepsi purchased the company, in the belief that they're going to screw it up somehow.

And I left it in its packaging for a month. I did eventually take it out of the box, and that first day, it sprayed all over my counter. The next bottles came out better as I got the hang of it. I did go almost a full day without a Coke, and since the whole had felt a bit off, despite drinking coffee for caffeine and SodaStream water for the fizziness. So I won't totally cut Coke out of my diet, but I do see myself cutting out a large chunk of it.

My Sunday Routine

Back when I thought I wanted to be a sysadmin, I read Time Management for System Administrators by Thomas A. Limoncelli. The sections that appealed to me the most were about routines. The routine of his that I always remember is that he gasses up his car on Sundays. Despite being a believer in the cashless society, the thing I always do now on Sundays is get cash. That way I don't have to think about it for another week.

My Sunday routine is a list of tasks, all requiring a low amount of brain power, all which can be done in a single evening. I use the process.st recurring checklist app to remind me what to do for my Sunday routine. I got the idea of having a written-out routine after reading the article Atul Gawande wrote about checklists. (He would turn that article into a book, which I would also read.) On my "Sunday Routine" checklist are things like "take out the recycling and the trash"; "water the plant"; "download and queue up podcasts"; "charge all the things"; "fill the kettle and make some fizzy water with the SodaStream"; and other mundane but necessary things that I'd rather not do on workdays.

My hope my Sunday routine would be to offload some mental energy to a written list. I would say that has happened, but I can't say for sure that it has added to the amount of energy I have for the rest of the week. At least everything that need to get done gets done. I've added other checklists to my life, including a "Leaving Home Checklist" (so I don't forget my resuseable coffee cup and turn off the lights) and a Start Work Checklist (for all of the system I have to log into before starting my pager duty shifts in the mornings). That has led to less forgetting to do the important but brainless things I have to do every day so I don't think of it a block away from my apartment or the easy things are out of the way when getting to work.

Flowers

Whenever my mom visits, I like to have flowers in the apartment. Just my luck that the Toronto Flower Market takes place a few blocks away. Now, every time I'm able, I get a $10 vase (in a jar) of flowers to brighten up my tiny little condo.

Here were my choices, all of which looked great. I decided to go with the one I picked up first, on the strength of the first impression it made on me.

I have 6 wine glasses, but they don't all fit in my cupboard. Somewhere along the line, flowers from a previous bunch dried out, but I kept the one with the grey petals. It took up residence in one of the wine glasses on my table, and it looks like it belongs there.

Today's market was the last of the year, and they pick up again in May, I assume.

Three Years at Acquia

Today marks my third anniversary of working at Acquia. This job has been more stressful than I imagined it but also with more laughs, learning and love than I imagined. Today was a good example, where an issue affected multiple customers and I ended up being the communications lead for the problem, but through teamwork and empathy we each played our part and kept things as light as possible while we figured out what was wrong.

I’m not saying I don’t love sleep, but every day I’ve looked forward to getting to the office and on the video hangout to work with my colleagues. There has never been a day where I wanted to get the hell out of there, and compared to previous jobs in my career, I never went home so exhausted that I couldn't do anything else.

The week leading up today has led to reflection around what it means to do essentially the same thing at the same spot in the organization chart for 3 years, and the challenges associated with working in a different city than my colleagues. A situation with the product developed by the team in Toronto led to a senior engineer realizing the value of having me in the same room, though, and while it took 2 days to pound on what was ailing the system, I was happy about the response to me as a customer support representative, that is, someone with a technical ability and confidence with technology with an understanding of the processes. The only regret of those past two days is I didn't get to show how the Support organization works as a team, but I am happy to have been able to showcase the access level and responsibility we're trusted with, and our orientation and reputation towards being as helpful as possible.

This week's work anniversary has also rejuvenated thoughts around levelling up. Chelsey Troy’s Levelling Up series tackles the subject of programming. In reading it, I was inspired to think more broadly about levelling up as a person. Getting in the swing of cooking for myself, joining an executive, seriously investing in hobbies, involving myself with the neighbourhood association, all those are all things I started after moving to Toronto. I think of taking care of my physical health, taking all opportunities to socialize (even if they have tended to be mostly over video, and taking advantage of the general situation of living in Canada's biggest and therefore best city, but I also think of what skills are going to be of most use in my 40s and what I don't have to do anymore.

It’s Relatively Cheap to Get Started With Making New Sounds

I’m not really sure what I was doing at Drone:Klub:21 beyond listening to synthesized music coming at me from all directions. It was pretty cool seeing men (let’s face it) agree on a key and a tempo and make new sounds from electrons, but I’m one of three “audience members” in four chairs provided. There were three times as many performers as listeners.

I keep wondering if I should bother goofing around with synthesizers. A co-worker asked if I was a musician, and it’s always tough to answer No to a question that is much more exciting when the answer is Yes. At least it’s relatively cheap to get started with making new sounds. I got interested in the idea of synthesizers when I saw the jaw-droppingly beautiful Teenage Engineering OP-1. And jaw-droppingly expensive (though it’s obvious to me why). There’s a lot of feelings I have around music, my father being a musician, and my parents’ respectable attempts to get us to play the guitar and keyboard. Synthesizers, especially the ones that look nothing much like a piano, appeal to the computer enthusiast in me, but the learning curve is a bit daunting.

3 Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator synthesizers

“Start small” has been a mantra lately, and that applies here too. I now own 3 Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators, a MIDI keyboard, and some starter software on an old MacBook Air. Maybe when January rolls around, I’ll have something to contribute to the #jamuary hashtag on Instagram.

Another Year as Director at Large for the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto

At an event last year put on by the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto, the president approached me to ask if I’d join the board of directors. It didn't take long for me to decide, though I did take a few days to mull it over. I had attended all the events (the travel show, where a traveler to Iceland presents about their trip; Thorablott, the yearly "winter" feast; and the Christmas brunch and farm visit where Santa made an appearance and told us about the Yule Lads), and I had taken the Icelandic lessons that the club offers.

In the first year as a director at large, I have been responsible mainly for my perspective and have volunteered to help out in material ways more so than I would if I weren't. I also maintain the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto Twitter account and do some of the communication through their Facebook page and try to keep the events page up to date. At today's annual general meeting, I have happily agreed to serve another year on the board, and hope to ameliorate the technology we use for internal communications (especially during board meetings). I have been the sole maintainer of the Instagram account, something I hope to broaden in the next year. I have some other ideas about where my responsibilities might broaden as well, and I'm excited about what might be possible in the coming months.

A colleague of mine at my day job is on the board of her local rowing club, and she and I were talking about a mutual colleague who had wondered if he should put his board membership on his resume. The answer from both of us was an emphatic yes. (I wish I had said he should target his experience towards whatever job he might want, but the situation didn't call for nuance.) Being a board member of a small club, with decisions that need making and events that need planning and communication that has to happen, has been a small thrill, and has made me feel part of something more so than just a regular membership would have. If you can stand a little conflict (present in all human relations) and like the idea of really being part of something, I would definitely recommend finding a role on a decision-making body. My role on the ICCT board has been something I've definitely been proud of the last year or so.

FaceTime

I just concluded a FaceTime chat with Roland, and it was good to talk to him again. He and I would have weekly lunches or coffee, often impromptu (very much counter to my “plan everything” orientation), and always worthwhile. Since moving to Toronto, it hasn’t exactly been hard keeping up with my Vancouver friends, but it hasn’t exactly been easy, either.

I work for the Boston-based Acquia, and almost all of my colleagues work out of that office. I spend about half of my day in Google Hangouts, and, much to my surprise, I don't hate it. It nice to "overhear" what they're working on, to have some watercooler talk, and to work on things live from time to time. In my previous job that customer meetings would be the only time I'd interact live with my co-workers while working remotely. That company did a good job of communicating with me, so I wonder how things are different now that the bandwidth to do video calls is better.

One set of friends and I have a bi-weekly calendar entry to get on video chat and talk about whatever. That helps reduce the social isolation I've felt in, yes, a city of 2.8 million people. (Joining the board of a volunteer organization has helped tremendously with that, too.) It was a magical coincidence that these friends of mine got along so well on our first day of university and that we've continued to keep in touch. The friend who organizes it insists on the video being turned on, and I'm grateful that he reminds me that a lot of the communication we have comes through seeing how each other is feeling. It has not escaped my attention that people are more and more chatting via video while walking on the street. With faster mobile Internet and ever-better handheld devices, I see this becoming more of a thing.

The 3-hour difference means I stay up late on whatever weeknight it's scheduled for. They have kids and I don't, so this was an accommodation to their schedule that I'm happy with.

What Went Well/What Didn't Go Well

In Travel Reminders for our Future Selves, Peter Rukavina writes:

At the tail end of our trip to Europe at the end of August, on the flight home, Oliver and I talked about the value of creating a list of what went well (so we can remember to do it again) and what didn’t (so we can avoid or work around it). We weren’t talking about macro issues, like “go back to Amsterdam again!” (which is a good idea in its own right), but rather things like “remember that you need to have €20 of balance on your Dutch transit chip card to be able to take the train.”

The idea mirrors the practice of we programmers to add comments to our code as a guide to others (and to our future selves): here be dragons, watch out for this pothole, this might seem like it won’t work, but it does. And so on.

Before each significant thing I do, like a trip, a date, or a running race, I try to write down expectations and fears of what's about to happen. Afterwards, I check to see if those expectations and/or fears were met, and I write down what went well and what didn't go so well. An example: During my last day trip to Stratford-on-the-Lake, I had a couple of hours to kill before the performance I was going to see. I thought it would be a good idea to pack a lunch, and it so happened that I had leftover breakfast from the diner the day before. I wish I hadn't brought it, because there was a pub with a mighty fine burger (with bacon, peanut butter, and potato chips inside). Having the leftover breakfast flop around in my bag all day wasn't a disaster, but absent a restaurant where I'm going, I'm not doing that again.

The day after, I wrote that in my Day One journal, the hope being that I'll look at my 'day trip' tag and see that again and make the right call the next time.

Location-Based Reminders, As They Are Now, Aren’t Very Useful.

OmniFocus is missing a delay in location-based reminders. As soon as I’m within range (which is always blocks away), I’m “reminded” to do something I’m not yet able to do, since I’m not there yet. The only app I’ve seen get location-based reminders close to right is Checkmark 2 by Snowman. You can set it to remind you a few minutes after you arrive somewhere, which gives you time to settle in. For a while, I had a reminder that would send me the URL to my OmniFocus task list for work 5 minutes after arriving at the office, which was just enough time to get seated and logged into all my systems.

There’s quite a bit of contextual data other than location which is important for location-based reminders. Location-based reminders need to a) be for categories of locations (are you close to a grocery store, that’s open?), b) know your method of travel (are you currently walking or in a vehicle?), c) possibly wait for a trigger, such as a Foursquare Swarm or Facebook checkin. The open-source OwnTracks app can ping an endpoint of your choosing and then you can have the endpoint take action based on your current location. My current use for it is to have it notify me of which Toronto neighbourhood I find myself in.

My research into notes applications that have APIs continues, and that will make possible much more interesting location-based reminders. Because the current crop lack either more contextual awareness or don’t have a built-in delay, they are not as useful as they could be.

Random Run: David Balfour Park to Mt. Pleasant Cemetery

I had wanted to resume my habit of strolling around Toronto on a Sunday morning. Then I recalled that I hadn't gone for a run in a few days, and decided to go for a jog instead. After two years of living here, this city is still new to me, so I took the opportunity to pick a random point and make a randomly generated route that I could run. Vancouver-based app RunGo would provide the turn-by-turn direction this time, as the app I previously relied on seems to be defunct.

This run would take me from Davisville Station, south on Yonge, and then east on St. Clair, where I would veer into David Balfour Park. (I would later learn, through the Yelp review, that the park is popular for cruising.) A rivine bisects the park, so the hills are long and sometimes muddy, and going up the stairs made it impractical to cross railroad tracks. (I had to go under it, not over it in this case.) That took me to Mt. Pleasant Rd., which is not pleasant at all. The entrance to the park is car-friendly, not person-friendly, so I had to dash across an uncontrolled intersection with no crosswalk. I failed to heed my own instructions, that is, to take a look at the route in Google Street View before setting out. The rest of the run, which I mostly walked, took me through TK and over the railway I couldn't cross earlier, using the Summerhill railway Footbridge. I saw a half dozen giant inflatable Santas, and at the end, I walked through the humongous Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. I reflected on how both Vancouver and Toronto have cemeteries in a place called Mt. Pleasant, and both are named Mt. Pleasant Cemetary, and both have wide streets running through them.

The “run” took me an hour and a half, though it was still a great way to see a strange city. You can see the route I created (imported to RunGo) vs. the actual route I took. I played the usual place-based games (Foursquare's Swarm, Fog of World, and even fired up Ingress to see what I should be looking at). Strava crashed a number of times, though I used the GPX from RunGo to upload my activity. It was smart to bring my battery pack, as the number of location apps running in the background took my level down to 16 percent.

Cycling Again

I'm commuting between work by bike again. I signed up in 2016 as a member of the Toronto Bike Share, and renewed again this month. Their call centre operation is weird, with a call center that presents options for English and Spanish. This being the country where English and French are the official languages, I have an idea of what that means. I haven't had a problem with their support when needed, at least.

A full Toronto Bike Share dock near The Esplanade.

Why not buy a bike? So far the thought of maintenance and locking it and worrying about it getting stolen have me using bike share.

I'm using the Transit app to see if bikes are available at docks, and Biko to get rewards. So far I have enough points for a beer tasting. Toronto Bike Share has mechanical docks around the city, meaning that's where you get them and leave them. So far it has been convenient. I'm looking forward to Dropbike, which more closely models Portland's GPS-based system of locking bikes. In Portland you can lock a bike at a dock or, for a small extra fee, any public bike rack. Toronto's system will have special bike racks, discoverable through their app, where one leaves the bikes. So far Dropbike is limited to University of Toronto's (huge) campus, so I don't have a membership yet.

Dropbike.

I use Strava to track my rides that last more than a couple of minutes, and Moves quietly logs trips as well. I've only used it to commute and not for a personal trip like a picnic.

Picnic

The Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto held their annual picnic last weekend, and before that, it occurred to me that I don't have the necessary equipment for having a picnic. That meant buying a blanket for sitting on and a picnic basket for taking along food and various whatnots. I shopped on Amazon.ca and found these beauties:

I went to the park next to my apartment on the Summer Solstice to try them out. I even brought my sharp water serving bottle and a tube of Pringles. I made a list of the things I forgot so that, during a real picnic, I'd be totally prepared.

This was my view as I lay down on the blanket:

Looking up at a tree.

On the way back I realized that the blanket folded up and fit under the handles of the basket. Bonus!

My arm, carrying a picnic basket and blanket.

The blanket folds up neatly (the tag has instructions in case I forget) and compactly. There are some limitations. The basket is too big to fit in the panniers of Toronto Bike Share bikes. The blanket is not machine washable.

I plan on picnicking every night in the summer and fall that I have leftovers from cooking to eat.

I Missed Tom Hawthorne’s Book Launch

Book launches are loud parties where I don’t know anybody. Except the author, through their work and their social media. So I still like attending them, if only to get a signed copy of their book, and maybe say a word or to to someone who will probably forget it later.

Tom Hawthorne, author of The Year Canadians Lost Their Minds and Found Their Country, rolled through Toronto last night, and I didn’t find out about it until afterwards. That happens fairly often since I moved to Toronto. On the bright side, I attend way more events than when I lived in Vancouver.

Ben McNally Books is a nice bookstore, with a generous area for seating when authors visit for presentations.

Since I buy Kindle editions of books now, I would have bought both the Kindle edition and a physical copy of his book, signed without having it addressed to me, and thought of a friend to give it to as a gift. I also print out the cover, tape it to my Kindle, and get the author to sign that, then tape it to the back of my Kindle when I’m reading it. It’s a thing I do.

(Did I ever tell you the story of how I met my favourite author Zadie Smith and got her to sign my copy of The Autograph Man and I was the only one who brought that book of hers to sign?)

How to Get a Free Printer from Best Buy

Here's how I got a free printer from Best Buy:

  1. Spend thousands of dollars on your credit card.
  2. Forget that you can use credit card points to make a payment.
  3. Instead use the points to get a $100 gift card at Best Buy.
  4. Look up on The Wirecutter what the best all-in-one printer is.
  5. Buy said printer on Amazon for about $125 and use the 30-day free trial of Prime you just signed up to get free shipping.
  6. Wait until the day it arrives at your doorstep. (Literally. Whoever delivered it just left it at my doorstep.)
  7. See a promoted tweet advertising a blowout sale for laptops at Best Buy.
  8. Forget that's what you clicked and spend 10 minutes retracing your steps to figure out what link you got there from.
  9. See that there are no Chromebooks on sale, but notice the printer you just bought—or, rather, one that's almost the same but a slightly different model—is on sale at $80 off, for a price of $50 (plus tax, plus recycling fee).
  10. Decide to buy that printer, and almost press “Submit order” before remembering you have the $100 gift card.
  11. Notice that the printer is on sale for just today.
  12. Rush home from work and find the gift card and submit the order and apply the gift card to the entire cost of the printer.
  13. Let the printer you bought on Amazon sit unopened until you're sure you get the free one in the mail.
  14. Wait for the email you'll get from Canada Post Flex Delivery that the printer has arrived for you at the post office.
  15. Pick up the printer. This is not the last step of getting a free printer, since you have another printer to sell.
  16. Return the printer you bought on Amazon. If that's not possible, this should be easy enough on Craigslist.

I'm currently at step #14.

No Longer Playing Ingress

Heading north on a Toronto streetcar, my heart sank as I realized something which initially felt awful but almost immediately felt like a relief: 24 hours had passed since I last hacked an Ingress portal. That meant that my streak of 561 days had come to an end on a Friday where I worked from home and didn’t think to hack the portal that was in range of my apartment. That being the only reason for playing Ingress, having been superseded this summer by Pokémon Go (from the same company as Ingress and modeled closely on it), I decided this was a project I could drop.

I’ll miss the software I built for it, though the ideas are valid for other projects I have in mind. One such project was to notify me of nearby farms, crowdsourced by the Vancouver Enlightened community. The software they built was impressive, not to mention the other add-ons, many not sanctioned by Niantic, built by Ingress communities around the world. The fact that I had API access to a player-generated database was staggering enough. There are other data sets, official and unofficial, that the code I wrote would be useful for.

I’ve written extensively about Ingress, though not publicly, only privately in my journal. That‘s because a lot of it involved information that would be useful to the enemy. The game took me on an early-morning car ride to Hope, B.C. to make a BAF (Big Ass Field) so I and a few others could get a high level badge. I played the role of comms operator during the ground game that leads up to a BAF. I’ve participated in “anomalies” (Niantic-sponsored day-long battles between the factions) in Vancouver and Boston, travelled to Oshawa on a GO Train for the purpose of participating in a First Saturday (events organized by local communities that have global implications for the game), and attended events in Toronto, and even showed someone the ropes of Ingress while interest in it waned more generally. I read with interest as bloggers Tim Bray and Alex Gustafson documented their adventures. I completed over a hundred missions, and took photos as I played. I would get the hardest badge to achieve, the Guardian medal for owning a portal longer than 150 days, by holding on to the Penticton airport portal from the summer of 2015 until someone returned home for the holidays. An extra dimension of difficulty was that I would be out of range to re-charge it, but I had the presence of mind to get multiple keys for the portal, so fellow ENL agents re-charged as I toured Europe for a couple of weeks.

Ingress made me look up more often, appreciate how many historical and notable buildings and structures and art were in cities. I met interesting people and went to interesting places and, overall, had fun playing it.

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